I used to work at the old and always lamented Green Sheet with a since-deceased and still-missed woman of Ukrainian descent.
As events unfolded a few years ago and the Soviet Union crumbled I, in perhaps my naivete, asked her what she thought about a seemingly lovely change in the world of Eastern Europe.
Hmm. In light of recent happenings, indeed hmm. I passed off her comments at the time as being reflective of her own understandable biases. Ukraine, after all, had never had an easy ride with the Russians. And now it seems that they aren’t destined to have one in their future.
The situation in that part of the world today takes me back – in a not pleasant way. I grew up in the days of the Red Scare. “Them damn Russkies wanta git us,” said in the voice and accent of Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. And we were raised to believe that was so.
We had civil defence exercises when I was in school and we were taught to duck under our desks and the civil defence weenies led us to believe our desks would protect us from nuclear annihilation. Good luck with that. But, we honestly thought that the Big One was going to come in our lifetimes. And then Hungary, and the Cuban Missile Crisis and Czechoslovakia seemed to confirm all that we feared.
I was in Canada so we didn’t have to contend with that McCarthy hearings shit that saw a Red under every bed, but the sentiments here were pretty similar.
So now after the benevolent years of Gorbachev (that lovable old ‘Gorby’, Regan’s pal), and tippling comedy figure Yeltsin (the Rob Ford of Russia) we have Vladimir Putin. Wily, mysterious, craven and ruthless, late of the KGB (and all that that suggests) and a man determined to not only get Russia on its right track but a man who possibly laments the breakup of the Soviet Union and wants to get some old turf – like Ukraine – back.
He’s a sneaky bastard. He stages an Olympics that came off largely without a hitch, but at the same time imprisons the hapless girls of Pussy Riot. He is dealing with a moribund economy yet seems determined to acquire territory. He has a nation with the highest alcoholism rate in the western world, and one in which life expectancy has actually fallen, yet poses a tangible threat to not only eastern Europe, the European Union and ultimately the West.
Not to be trusted, suggested my Ukrainian friend those many years ago.
I take her point and also think, damn, I didn’t want to have to face this crap again in my lifetime. It’s kind of like revisiting a bad marriage.